As a Catholic, what do I need to know about racism?

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This is something our Catholic faith teaches us: that the existence of evil anywhere is a clear and present danger to us all.

Let me begin by saying, as a white Catholic, I knew almost nothing about the black Catholic experience until I heard Father Bryan Massingale speak at a conference. Massingale is a theologian, and also has to talk about racism a lot because he's black. As he says, when he was ordained, he only meant to become a priest. But he's obliged to be a black priest because that's what people see when they look at him. After hearing Massingale speak, I read his book on the church and racial justice (see below). Then I sat with him at another conference and got to talk with him more personally. He convinced me that I needed to read Cyprian Davis' history of contributions that black Catholics have made to this country—and how they were treated in return by country and church. Davis' history is an illuminating, breathtaking, and harrowing journey toward understanding. It made me realize that confronting the sin of racism takes time, education, and will—the same way building a society woven through with the thread of racism took time and teaching and deliberate decisions to create.

What becomes clear in an examination of the past and present is that racism is about everything in this country: poverty, education, health care, criminal justice, immigration, workers' rights, gender bias, the environment. Name an issue, and you discover there's a racial component to it that a white person may not have considered. This is what's meant by white privilege, a volatile term that a lot of people don't like to hear and don't properly understand. It doesn't imply that a white person is automatically richer, better educated, or has more career opportunities available to them—an obvious untruth. The privilege is that white people don't have to think about race. In every situation we face, we don't have to ask: what's the "white angle" on this? How will my skin likely affect my outcome here?

If you're black, Asian, Native American, or Latinx, you're never separated from the realities of race and what it may mean for you in any situation. And if you're white like me, you may be unaware that racism is a wound that harms us all.  A spiritual danger, that is. We can't live contentedly knowing about Lazarus at the gate, sick and hungry and in need, without being complicit in his suffering. We can't live adjacent to injustice and not be summoned to speak out against it until it's defeated. Most white people I know don't "have it out" for people of color, and therefore don't see racism as a problem they have. We ALL have the problem. It's our problem, until it's no one's problem.

Scriptures: Compassion is the counterpart to racism when it leads to solidarity, as follows: Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 7:11-17; 10:29-37; 15:11-32; 16:19-31; Romans 12:9-18; 1 Cor 11:17-29; 2 Corinthians 5:12, 16-21; Galatians 3:27-28 new creation

Books: Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, by Bryan Massingale (Orbis Books, 2010)

The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by Cyprian Davis (Crossroads, 1991)

Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America, by Joseph Barndt (Fortress Press, 2008)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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